12/05/2005

Giant Drag Interview




Since I moved back to Los Angeles three years ago, Giant Drag has been one of the most exciting bands I have discovered locally. They may seem like a new band just formed. But It has really been a lifelong project born out of a love for music. Giant Drag is Annie Hardy (guitar/vocals) and Micah Calabrese (drums/keyboards). They are best friends and band members now situated in Echo Park and Silverlake. The band started in 2003. I saw them play at Silverlake Lounge a few years ago. They had a song "Blunt Picket Fence" on The Fold compilation. Next came the Lemona EP (2004). That led to tours with Har Mar Superstar and Brendan Benson.

Giant Drag combines folk music, blues with hard rock and even shoegazer music. After playing a ton of shows locally and a UK tour they came back to NYC during the CMJ and wowed the critics there too. The first album is Hearts and Unicorns (2005). It is coming out September 13th. They have taken their sound to a new level. There are some old songs from the EP like "Cordial Invitation" and "This Isn't It" but also a new batch of new impressive songs. Even their oldest song "Blunt Picket Fence" gets a new improvement updated with strings.


Some of the new songs like "Kevin Is Gay" and "Pretty Little Neighbor" and "You're Full Of Shit" are their best ever and indicate their new direction. Giant Drag have a soft side and a hard side. Their music has all the power and glory of a great impressive debut. This is for me one of the exciting records of the fall so far. Giant Drag has delivered the goods. This record is all about the pain and the struggle of life. You have to hear this amazing sound. I got to speak to Annie Hardy recently in her apartment in Echo Park. She seemed pretty excited about the album and touring this fall.

* * * *
AL: Most bands do their first album and it's all the songs they have written when they were young. It's all about hope and aspirations. Then they do a second album and it's songs about life on the road and groupies.
Annie: I don't ever want to do that. I don't want to be like The Get-Up Kids and write songs about missing people while I am on tour. I don't think that I will. I would rather write songs about Oprah, about how she is raising awareness by interviewing women over 60 with AIDS. Who would have known?

AL: Are your family musicians? What do they do?
Annie: No. Not at all. My mom is a writer. That is where I got my creativity. She writes plays and directs them. She wrote a musical even though she is tone deaf. She doesn't play any instrument whatsoever. She wrote it with another person. She wrote three plays and they are all very different. One is about suicide. She tours in high schools and jails. Her name is Molly Hardy. The plays are pretty cool. I played music in one of them. The plays actually change the lives of young people. These tough gangster types who are juvenile hall see the plays and they are moved. They are crying at the end.

AL: That sounds great.
Annie: Another play of hers is about AIDS. Her best friend died of AIDS when I was eight years old. He wrote the music for it. When that happened I was living in San Clemente. Places like that in Orange County are ten years behind culturally. When my best friend's family found out that I knew someone who died of AIDS, they wouldn't let my best friend drink off the same soda can as me. It's very white trash there.

AL: In Orange County, there is a lot of homophobia.
Annie: Yeah. Those people would start telling people that my mom was a lesbian. It was because she had a gay friend. You have to be kidding me?

AL: Were you going to be an actor early on?
Annie: I was in her plays when I was a little kid. I was acting all the time. I was thinking that was something I wanted to do. I went to boarding school when I was in the tenth grade. There was nothing to do there. I was acting there and I was in the choir. There are a bunch of boarding schools in Ojai.

AL: That sounds like going to a Prep School?
Annie: Everyone who went to my boarding school got into real colleges afterwards. It was weird to not go that way with your life. I tried some acting. I was only good at it when the character was an extension of my own personality. I can be myself on stage. As long at it is fun or sarcastic I can do it.

AL: How did learn how to play an instrument?
Annie: I always knew that I wanted to. When I was a kid and watching TV, I would watch Janet Jackson and "She's sweet." When I was in sixth grade I got my first guitar. My parents tried to get me to take lessons. I have always hated school and being taught a certain way. The first attempts at guitar lessons didn't work. I learned how to play the riff from "Jeremy" and "Cats in The Cradle." I thought that something is not right. In ninth grade I took lessons aga in. My teacher stopped giving me lessons because I told him "I was God." He called my Mom.

AL: You were being contrary?
Annie: Yeah, I was just fucking with him. He called my Mom and said, "Hey, Annie told me that she was God and she seemed really serious." I stopped then. The next year I went to boarding school and I met another girl who had a guitar. Her Dad was teaching her Beatles songs. So we learned how to play together. I learned a lot by studying piano books that had chord charts. I bought some r ock books. Around then I learned how to play and sing at the same time. Since then I have been all over that shit.

AL: You must have been in some bands before Giant Drag? What were those like?
Annie: It was pretty harsh. Being a girl was difficult. Even I was prejudiced against female musicians. I didn't benefit from being one of the guys, and having them teach me how to play the guitar. I would try to assemble groups with other girls. I thought that would work. In one band I played guitar and the other two girls were the singers. I couldn't find any girls who could play an instrument.

AL: Why is that?
Annie: It's weird. In San Clemente, it's shocking if you are a girl and you do something other than go shopping or go to the beach. Eventually a few of my guy friends let me play keyboards in their band for a while. I played my first show with that band. It was mostly playing some backyard parties. After a while I said, "Fuck these guys." I moved to Los Angeles. I knew I could find some girls, or maybe some guys if I was lucky, who would play with me.

AL: It seems like when you have four or five members in a band you always have to write parts for each member to play. Maybe you don't want any guitars on a track. What is that guy going to do when you play that song?
Annie: That is the great thing about having two people in a band. We always know what we are going to do. We always think about having a bass player or another member. But we eventually choose not to do that.

AL: When did you move to LA?
Annie: I was eighteen years old. It was in 1998. At that time I recorded a lot of my own songs on a four-track. I knew that I wanted a band. It's very lonely being a solo artist. You are very limited when you are alone. When I got to LA the same things would happen. I would meet girls who wanted to be in a band that couldn't play anything. In one band I was teaching one girl how to play the drums. I hardly know how to play the drums. I was showing one girl how to play the bass, and another how to play guitar. It was so fucking frustrating. Everything I tried, nothing really clicked. Nothing felt like it was worth it. I had one band that came pretty close. It was a band called Mein Coiffe. It was my friend Mike Felix. We used the Beauty Bar logo as our logo. I was twenty and I had a fake ID. I was going to bars and I was drunk, and I thought of that. That band almost worked. I got to collaborate with another songwriter. But that fell apart.

AL: Did any Giant Drag songs come into being yet?
Annie: We were doing a cover of "Wicked Game." There was an early version of "Blunt Picket Fence." There was one other band before Giant Drag. It was with this other girl. Before we even played a note together, she said, "This is what we are going to wear onstage for our first show. This is how I want to be. We are all going to have a special name."

AL: That sounds really interesting.
Annie: That is not what it is about. Dude, I am not going to do that. That girl still plays in a band now. I was really discouraged. I felt like I couldn't find another girl who had the same ideals as me. I want to find someone who didn't want to be in a band for the wrong reasons.

AL: What are some of the right reasons? It seems to me that a lot of female musicians go out with guys in other bands, while male musicians will go out with anybody.
Annie: Yeah. When you are a girl and you are boning a guy in a band, there is a thin line from being a groupie. But if you have a guitar, somehow you are supposed to be equal? I don't know.

AL: If you are dating someone in your own band, and then you break up as a couple, then you jeopardize the life of the band.
Annie: The White Stripes did it. That always seems like a bad idea. I have always dated people who were similar to me. Since they are similar, they end up being musicians or drug addicts. It's not a prerequisite. I like to hang out with people who have similar interests.

AL: How did Micah come into the picture?
Annie: He was actually recording a lot of my songs, for me. We are really good friends. We would hang out. We would spend a whole Sunday and record a bunch of songs. We would play a cover song by Journey at his house. One day I said, "Hey dude, you know all my songs. Why don't you be my drummer?" He agreed. Then we started thinking about getting a bass player. Just as a joke Micah started playing the bass parts on a synthesizer with his left hand and the drums with his right hand. We laughed. We said, "Wait, it's funny, but it works."

AL: I saw you play some shows in New York without Micah. There was a time last fall when he was out of the band. Then I see you guys play this year and he's back in. What was that all about?
Annie: That was pretty fucked. I was very hopeful at first. I thought it could be cool. But no one can play these songs as good as Micah. We have a special chemistry that I don't have with anybody else. The new guy came into the band right at the time we were getting signed. He said that he wanted to be on the deal. It's like "Dude, you have been in this band for a month. The record label won't even let you be on the deal, because it's too much of a risk. And if you do that the record label will own you for the rest of your life." At the end of the day, he quit. I asked Micah to come back for the recording. He had such a great time that he decided to stay. I made him sell me his soul at the studio one day. He was trying to buy something from me. I said "I will sell this to you for ten dollars... and your soul! That means you have to stay in this band for the rest of your life."

AL: You did that UK tour back in September last year without Micah.
Annie: There was a press photo of Micah and me. The new guy joined the band and we were doing a tour of England two weeks later. There were reviews of the show saying: "There's Micah." Sorry, that wasn't Micah.

AL: When did you play the first shows as Giant Drag?
Annie: We did our first show June 4th, 2003. We did a show about a month after we decided to be a band. I booked a show so we could get ready for it. I knew there wouldn't be any urgency unless I did something like that. It was like "Micah, I booked a show at the Scene. You either play it with me or I go it alone." The ball started rolling and shit started happening really fast.

AL: What were the first shows like?
Annie: The first show was at the Scene. The second show was at the Troubadour. The third show was at the Silverlake Lounge. From that show we got a residency. Scott really liked us so we started to play at The Fold a lot. We played a lot of shows at The Derby and the Silverlake Lounge.

AL: Then last summer you did another residency at Spaceland?
Annie: That was in June 2004.

AL: You did that show with Scissor Sisters?
Annie: Oh my God! That was the first show we did at Spaceland. I was going "Wow. Are we that popular? No, it's for that band." I thought they sucked. But all the shows were all full. That was pretty cool. That was a fun time. Micah actually quit the band in the middle of our residency, but played the rest of the shows. That was weird.

AL: Is that why you were wrestling with him on stage?
Annie: Yeah, I think so. I would get mad at Micah when he would make mistakes. It would fuck you up doing that. I would leap over the drums just to knock Micah over.

AL: What about some of the rumors surrounding the band?
Annie: Like what?

AL: I don't know. Maybe we should make some up right now?
Annie: I keep hearing a rumor that we have broken up. That is so boring. I heard a rumor that someone else writes all the songs. That one is funny.

AL: Did you go into the hospital for secret plastic surgery?
Annie: Definitely not!

AL: Who made the "This Isn't It" video? What is going on there?
Annie: My friend GJ made it. He is going to make the new video we are doing at the end of July. We were going to do that video for "Blunt Picket Fence." That was the only song we had mastered at the time. His concept was of me being in bed with a few dudes and a couple chicks. They are just getting up and out, and leaving me alone. That idea sounded better for the song "This Isn't It." Since we did it so fast we used the demo version of the song. It was a different tempo than the one on the EP. It got played on MTV2 in the UK.

AL: What about cover songs?
Annie: We have done three. "Wicked Game" seems like a song that I could have written. It felt really natural playing it. We have played it so many times now that it feels like our own song. We covered "When You Sleep" by My Bloody Valentine when we played those Spaceland shows. We also played "Ashes To Ashes" by David Bowie. We played that at Silverlake Lounge when I had cut my hand on a meat slicer. I couldn't play guitar for two weeks. We were doing some keyboard songs and that was one of them. I haven't figured out any great cover songs since then that are right for us.

AL: How did you do the new album?
Annie: We recorded every song that we have. We had eighteen songs now. I had an idea of the track listing. It's good that we recorded all the songs because some of the songs that I didn't think would be on the record ended up sounding really good. We put those on the final album instead of the other songs. We chose one song by Joe from The Icarus Line. It's funny because that is who people keep thinking wrote all my songs. That is ridiculous. But I think it's funny that he wrote a song that is on there. It's a real great song.

AL: Has the sound of the band evolved over the past two years?
Annie: Definitely. Before we had a bunch of songs with slower tempos. All our songs were sad and mopey. For live shows it's better to be upbeat. It's nice to have a fast pace. Maybe I have gotten angrier too?

AL: What pisses you off?
Annie: People especially. Injustice.

AL: You were a DJ at a club for a while. How does that fit in with the whole Annie Hardy universe?
Annie: That was the only thing giving me any money for a while. I didn't want to have a job and do a band on the side. I wanted to do music all the time. Because whenever I had a job or went to school I was bummed out. I hate dealing with shitty people and getting them a coffee, or being told what to do. I decided to live on very little money while my creativity didn't suffer. It worked. As a DJ at Beauty Bar I made in one night what I would have made a whole week as a barista at Starbucks. I lost that gig as a DJ when I moved into this apartment.

AL: What did you play?
Annie: I played stuff that I liked. People would come up to me and say "You are the best DJ I have ever heard." At least two people say that every time I play. I don't know if they are really drunk or what? Then I get the people who try to request songs. People want to hear stuff like Meatloaf and Madonna.

AL: Has you being from Orange County influenced the songs at all?
Annie: Definitely. Growing up in Orange County set up the tone for the rest of my life. You can take the girl from Orange County... Whatever. I was a weird person down there. I wasn't like anybody else. The only people who I could relate to were the really fucked up people. They were weird but not in the same way. We were the outcasts.

AL: Is that show "The OC" really accurate?
Annie: Micah and I were watching it the other day. It seems like Orange County. Only if these people were really young enough to be in high school. Only if they were shooting heroin would it be more accurate. "The OC" is mostly about Newport Beach. San Clemente is really different.

AL: Do you go back there?
Annie: I do but it's so depressing. I don't know what the fuck is going on down there. A bunch of kids I went to school with have died already. If they didn't overdose, they have kids already. Some of them are strung out. I don't know what is going on down there. There is a nuclear plant down there. Where I lived, Forrester Ranch, is built on a toxic waste dump. There are high rates of cancer down there. My mom had a twenty-pound tumor on her ovary.

AL: You had this article or two about you in the NME. For a lot of people in the UK that is one of the newspapers that everyone reads. How does it feel when you are one of the first few bands that some 15-year-old girl hears in Essex?
Annie: I feel weird when anything is written about me. I am not a hipster. I don't go out every night. I don't feel like "indie rock popular band" Giant Drag? Are we really popular? Are we really indie rock? What is that?

AL: I guess "indie rock" in that case is all the new bands that tour in vans and are not mainstream bands.
Annie: Don't you think that all those "indie rock" bands would tour in a big bus if they could?

AL: When we were in New York City last fall at CMJ, we were talking about all those articles comparing Giant Drag to The Breeders. What was that about?
Annie: Yeah. I finally figured out why that happened.

AL: You were really annoyed about it last year.
Annie: I didn't understand it. Why are people saying this? They were all saying the same thing. I was hoping that someone would change it up. But it was our press release, which I had never seen, that made the comparison. Once I saw it, I realized that 75% of what has been written about us was a ripped off sound bite from our press release. I like when people compare us to Nirvana. It's great when I get compared to any guy in another band.

AL: You want to be treated like one of the guys?
Annie: Yeah. I have always been that way. Most of my friends are guys.

AL: If there is a band with four guys, you think it's a good band. If there is a few girls in the band, you have to think to yourself "Is this a girl group?" But at the end of the day a good band is a good band. Let's evolve people!
Annie: I know it's impossible to ignore the fact that there is a girl up there. But I don't want to thought of as a girl band. I am a girl, but I don't act like a typical girl. I'd rather look like a guy onstage. I would like to be like almost non-sexual.

AL: Have you toured the United States yet?
Annie: We have been to Texas, New York, and the West Coast. In the UK music is really cool. It's really different over there. People like music and they really want to hear new bands. People are not to cool for school like they are over here. People go nuts for shows over there. They are dancing. They let you know if you are awesome. At our second show over there we sold twenty CDs. Everyone wanted us to sign them. It was insane.

AL: If people are listening to Giant Drag, what bands should they be listening to because you are paying homage to them?
Annie: I listen to so much different shit. If you are a kid and you haven't heard The Beatles, start there. Go from there.

AL: You do a lot of talking between songs. People expect now that you are going to tell jokes. How did that happen?
Annie: It's become a reason why people want to go to the shows. It started because Micah is changing the settings on the synthesizer in between songs. It's an old analog synth and it takes a while. If I didn't talk in between songs I would be standing there for a minute doing nothing. I started yapping at one of the shows and people started laughing. People have told me that I should do stand up comedy. The only time I have said anything funny it was just made up then for that particular time. It's perfect for a band situation.

AL: When did you record the record?
Annie: We started in December 2004. That was about six months ago. We recorded all our songs and "Wicked Game." There were two songs that we knew weren't going to be on the album. We recorded a lot of shit. It took forever. We worked in a few different studios. It took months.

AL: Was it done all live?
Annie: No. It was all done painstakingly slow. We recorded the drums in a nice studio at Paramount. We recorded the rest at Downtown Studio. Our friends from Dirty Little Secrets have a studio there. There is a vocal booth. It's the worst place to record. You can hear the other bands in the other rooms. The sound comes through the floor. You walk in the hall and you are bombarded with the shittiest music you have ever heard in your life. We used a tape machine for most of the recording. We recorded one thing at a time.

AL: You did the EP the same way?
Annie: Yeah. Pretty much the same way. We did most of it at Record Plant. It is a super-nice studio. We were getting it for free. We would have to go in when no one else was there. We did eleven songs because we thought we were doing an album then. We would work really fast and do fourteen hours of drums one day. Did one day of guitar tracks. Did another day of vocals. We finished it at the Dirty Little Secrets' studio. We had to redo the vocals and guitars there. The first stuff sounded like Pink. The engineer didn't know what we were supposed to sound like. He didn't have a feel for the music.

By alexander laurence

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